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RNC protest charges dropped against former UA student

By Zach Colick
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, April 20, 2005
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Felony charges are expected to be dismissed against a former UA student next month, who was arrested after protesting on the streets of New York City during last year's Republican National Convention.

Yusuke Josh Banno, 21, of Tucson, has the New York Daily News to thank after it ran a photograph showing the barely visible protester nowhere near the events taking place by Madison Square Garden.

The New York Times reported last week that New York State District Attorney Robert Ferrari announced he would drop all charges against Banno. Ferrari telephoned Banno's defense attorney Sabrina Shroff to say he planned to drop all charges.

The charges against Banno will be dismissed May 17, said district attorney spokeswoman Barbara Thompson.

"It's nice to be vindicated and go home with the right result," Shroff said. "(The case) had been a waste of time, money and energy."

As of last month, about 80 percent of the convention arrests had been dismissed, adjourned in contemplation of dismissal or ended in acquittals, according to statistics from the district attorney's office.

Banno has been in and out of courtrooms four times since August, with each time the trial being delayed, which Banno said was at the discretion of the prosecution and Ferrari, who were never prepared for trial.

"They were prosecuting an innocent person," Banno said. "I'm not going to stop believing what I believe in. I learned a lot about our legal system, and in the future I will be more aware of my surroundings so I don't go through a similar experience."

Banno was arrested Aug. 29 and faced several charges, including assault on a police officer in his alleged involvement with the burning of a large green papier-mâché dragon in front of Madison Square Garden during the protest.

The former political science junior and Arizona Daily Wildcat employee was near a dragon float that caught fire on the Sunday before the convention. New York City police officers arrested Banno, saying he was responsible for the blaze.

The New York Daily News reported police officers suspected Banno of setting the fire, noting he had matches and an oven mitt in his pockets when he was arrested. Banno said the matches were used for lighting cigarettes, and the oven mitt was used as a protection device against the tear gas police officers were hurdling into the crowd.

Prosecutors said Banno was arrested after an unnamed undercover cop identified him as the man who caused injuries to a police officer. However, the officer later told a judge he now believes he misidentified Banno.

Shroff said she took the case on as a part of the National Lawyers Guild, which dedicates its services to the needs for basic and progressive change in the structure of political and economic system in representing people who need the help, according to the NLG Web site.

Between plane rides, legal fees and housing in New York during the trial, Banno said the nine-month ordeal cost him and his family more than $30,000 and had him going back and forth from Arizona to New York. He decided to stay in New York City for more than a month from March until now, and had to get a job after realizing travel expenses were getting too steep. A Web site - - was even created so that friends and supporters of Banno could donate money to help him defray his travel and legal expenses.

All along Banno said the charges were untrue, that he had witnesses to prove it and the police's agenda was to suppress free speech. He said he was confused over the whole situation and doesn't understand why the police officers targeted him.

Banno said he credits Shroff's work ethic and willingness in taking on the case for a low fee.

"Her help was invaluable and I appreciate her service in helping me every step along the way," Banno said.

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